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article imageOntario's Feed-in-Tariff program Special

By Andrew Reeves     Nov 14, 2011 in Environment
Toronto - Ontario's Feed-in-Tariff program is about to receive a scheduled two-year review. And as the government reviews how the program has been operating since its November 2009 launch, I spoke with one Ontario resident who just linked into the clean grid.
Two years into its mandate to improve green energy production in Ontario, the time has come to review the Feed-in-Tariff program that has proved as controversial in Ontario as it has after launching in other jurisdictions worldwide.
The Ontario FIT program is the most comprehensive of its kind in North America. Under the MicroFIT program, homeowners in Ontario are able to install various types of renewable energies - solar, wind, etc. - and connect their home to the local electricity grid. This will not only power their own home with green energy, but supply excess power to the grid to ensure that a greater percentage of the power being used by other homes and businesses comes from renewables as well.
The MicroFIT program is for homeowners and small business owners generating 10 kilowatts or less, while the FIT program allows renewable energy developers a chance to link in to the grid at variable prices guaranteed for a 20 year term.
When the Green Energy Act was written, two-year mandated reviews were included in the legislation to ensure the program was evolving as the nature of the green energy economy shifts to meet new demands and available technologies.
As such, the current review will examine FIT pricing structures, the potential inclusion of new technologies, how best to maintain and expand upon the green energy manufacturing taking place in the province, and provide further consideration of outreach best practices to "complement the province’s Renewable Energy Approval (REA) process," according to the Ministry of Energy.
It is a cornerstone of Premier Dalton McGuinty's vision for an economy energized by green technology manufacturing. An economy powered by the very renewables being built by Ontario workers in Ontario factories. “Ontario needs a solid plan to replace what will be lost when its coal plants are closed, and green renewable energy sources have to be a significant part of that plan,” says Tim Bird, national sales manager of the renewable energy division of EfstonScience in Toronto, in Daily Construction News.
And Bird is not alone in singing the praises of a green energy future. Former Energy Minister Brad Duguid:
Last November we released our Long-term Energy Plan; a roadmap for the future that outlines our energy strategy to build a world-leading clean energy economy, and a modern, reliable energy system for decades to come. It will ensure Ontario has a balanced mix of resources to power our homes and businesses for decades to come. Our plan has already created 20,000 jobs and is on track to create 50,000 clean energy jobs by the end of 2012.
But McGuinty's wholehearted support of green energy in Ontario has come at a price. Opposition to wind turbines in rural Ontario has no doubt cost him seats, and may well have cost his government their coveted majority in the October 6 election. It is not for nothing that Jim Merriam wrote in the Toronto Sun recently that "that was the message rural voters delivered in the election, when they slammed the doors of rural Ontario shut on Liberal hopefuls."
The result was a loss of 19 seats, split between the New Democrats and the joyous Progressive Conservative Party who have found an issue that appeals to their core base of support. PC leader Tim Hudak loudly proclaimed in the last election campaign that he would cancel all contracts Ontario currently enjoyed with Korean manufacturing giant Samsung to manufacture wind turbines in the province. Despite this, the issue still has traction, and may well propel him to power in the next election.
So given the vocal and scathing criticism that Premier Dalton McGuinty has received for failing to listen to anti-wind power advocates in rural Ontario, this is an important component of the review. (In an article I wrote elsewhere on the importance of moving past NIMBYism in Ontario with regards to wind turbines, I found out first hand how passionate and vociferous the opposition to wind power truly can be.)
"Rural residents want meaningful discussion about wind turbines, including everything from their efficiency (or lack of it) to the way in which they affect the health of residents who live near them," writes Merriam in the Sun. "Somebody soon has to at least pretend to care about the people."
MicroFIT, then, is the Jekyll and Hyde of government programs in Ontario. Touted as both the economic saviour of Ontario and the program that is tearing rural families and communities apart. Whichever way you look at it, there is tremendous power in the MicroFIT program to change this province. Whether you embrace this change depends entirely on your perspective.
Based on the wide range of opinions on the program, I wanted to speak with someone who has first-hand experience with MicroFIT. I got in touch with Collingwood, Ontario resident Ivan Chan, who has recently flipped the switch on his own MicroFIT renewable energy program. He is now part of the controversial clean energy grid.
Mr. Chan contacted Dommelvalley Green Power, a Barrie, Ontario-based company, to install 20 solar panels the roof of his rural home that will generate roughly 4.3 kilowatts of power. When his home was plugged into the power grid through the Ontario Power Authority, Ivan was able to examine online the power his home was generating, while analyzing hourly, weekly, monthly, or yearly power trends.
Even better, in order to put energy savings and carbon offsets in terms people can more readily understand, the website also indicates how much energy Ivan had produced to date (197 kilowatt hours, enough to power seven houses for a day), and how much carbon he had offset (301 lbs, the equivalent of what three grown trees can sequester.) The more power he produces, the more housing equivalents he can power, until he had generated enough to power the Rogers Centre in Toronto. The three trees he has earned will one day become a forest.
You can see for yourself how Ivan's home is doing here.
The initial cost outlay was roughly $30,000, no small amount of money to invest in a small-scale solar power operation. But with a fixed-rate of $0.82/kwh he is paid for generating clean energy through his rooftop solar project, Ivan expects an annual return of $5,000, enough to ensure that within six years his investment has paid off. Everything after that is profit.
As for problems with the installation, Ivan noted there were few. "My only issue was having a few slight wobbles on the roof which the installer said was not an easy remedy, and the installers had some delays too," he told me. "The OPA process was very easy to use and now quite streamlined, [and] I deal only with the local utility company."
Yet the success of the MicroFIT program depends upon average Ontario homeowners becoming technically savvy enough to navigate the often complex and confusing world of energy pricing and solar technology. "I have the 245W modules," Mr. Chan told me in response to one of my questions. "Just multiply by 20 and you get the DC rating of 4.9kW. Each module has a microinverter rated at 215W AC, thereby making the capacity being tied into the grid at 4.3kW." I eventually understood what he was saying, but I did have to look a few things up.
And Ontarians will be hesitant to invest such large sums of money during a recession in something they may not easily understand. I asked Ivan what knowledge he had of this system before he signed on. "I had a basic knowledge about solar power - good location, AC/DC, and so on - plus the long-term cost analysis, and that's what I would say one needs to realize: the potential [to] get the wheels rolling."
"Everything else is gravy," he adds.
Mr. Chan is exactly the kind of small-scale entrepreneur that Premier McGuinty was hoping would sign-on to the MicroFIT program - ordinary citizens who seize upon an opportunity not only to turn a profit for themselves, but to support an entire system of green energy in the process. Contracting installation to local businesses who can purchase turbines and panels from manufactures within the province who have hired local workers. Citizens who tell their neighbours, friends, and family about what they are doing, and how they can do it too.
The government review is necessary to ensure the process not only remains financially viable, but technologically cutting-edge. And in the process, McGuinty hopes to move Ontario energy production into the 21st Century.
More about Microfit, Renewable energy, Ontario, Dalton McGuinty, Wind turbine
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